Since rehearsals began for the Northeastern theatre production of columbinus, director Matthew Gray has urged his student cast members to separate themselves emotionally from such a difficult subject matter, advice the students have taken to heart.
Motivated by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, columbinus is a multimedia docudrama that uses facts and fiction to examine bullying, isolation, and other pressures facing high school students.
“One of the big efforts every cast member has to make in working with a piece this difficult is to focus on the craft and divest from it emotionally,” explained Phillip Esposito, AMD’15, who plays Freak. The play’s characters are identified by labels—such as Rebel, Perfect, and Jock—rather than by actual names.
The play opens Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Studio Theatre and is the Department of Theatre’s first production of 2015.
The cast has been very supportive of one another during rehearsals, with students often embracing each other with hugs following emotional scenes, Esposito noted. His character and the Loner, played by Jared Curtis, AMD’18, are outsiders at a stereotypical American high school who are driven to violence after being bullied by classmates.
For Curtis, the moment that hit him the hardest was during a rehearsal in which he and Esposito walk into the library. Right before he took the stage, Curtis was handed a piece of wood that represented his gun.
“I just lost it,” Curtis said. “I couldn’t imagine putting myself in a position like that.”
Curtis and Esposito said all the cast members have worked hard to make their nameless characters multi-dimensional. Curtis noted that his Loner character is often alone on stage, whereas many of the other characters are together in scenes sharing that “high school experience.” This, he said, has helped him get inside the mind of his character.
“There have been times in rehearsal where I have felt, ‘Man, I really wish I were part of that,’” he explained.
The cast members applauded how their director breaks down scenes analytically and then brings that vision to the stage in ways people aren’t expecting but still understand. For example, a traditional way to set a classroom scene would be to have numerous chairs and desks on stage. But Gray sets that scene using a variety of different stage elements, such as a pool and monkey bars, as well as through the relationships and interactions between the characters.
“When we are in a classroom in a scene, I never doubt we are in a classroom,” Esposito explained.
The play runs from Tuesday night through Sunday, March 1. Shows on Tuesday through Saturday begin at 8 p.m. and the final performance on Sunday begins at 2 p.m. Get tickets here.